Friday, October 23, 2015

NFL Week 7 Primer (With Picks): Who's Actually Any Good?

Are the Jets actually good? Who knows, but we do know they have Darrelle Revis again, and the All-Pro corner will make his return to Foxboro this weekend after helping the Patriots win the Super Bowl last year.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Week 7 has already begun, but there are plenty of teams we still don't know what to think about. The entire NFC East, for example, is an enigma. Are the Giants actually good? Is Philly back? Washington was good on defense, now apparently it isn't any more. Dallas should be good when people get healthy, we think.

But basically every division has a team that we're not entirely sure about. The Bills and Jets in the AFC East, the Browns in the AFC North, Oakland and San Diego in the AFC West, and… Ok, we pretty much know what to think about the AFC South.

In the NFC the reigning conference champs are still finding themselves, while Arizona is up-and-down, Minnesota could be decent, and maybe New Orleans and Tampa Bay aren't as bad as we thought (maybe Atlanta isn't as good as we thought either…)

Basically, we know New England and Green Bay are good, and the AFC South is garbage. Pretty much everything else is in flux, so let's take a look at this week's slate.

Game(s) of the Week

New York Jets at New England (1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Patriots fans know the Jets always, sometimes inexplicably, play the Patriots close, and this year's edition of Gang Green is over-achieving by every measure. Can New York's suddenly bruising ground game control the clock against New England, and can the Jets get to Tom Brady, who is now playing without left tackle Nate Solder?

We'll see in what should be New York's early-season Super Bowl.

Oakland at San Diego (4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Neither team is above .500, nor do they have much of a chance of overtaking Denver in the AFC West, but they're both really fun to watch. Phillip Rivers is throwing for 3 million yards per game, while Oakland boasts a pair of young stars on offense in quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Amari Cooper, along with second-year defensive stud Khalil Mack.

A win for either team will keep them in the AFC Wild Card discussion, but this isn't just about stakes, it should be a very aesthetically appealing game.

Or it could turn into a Chargers-Raiders suckfest. Who knows.

Philadelphia at Carolina (8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC)

Most people still want to see these two teams "validate" themselves, but the Eagles have far more to prove Sunday night after their slow start. Both teams have been winning with defense, something more surprising for Philadelphia, which has overcome nine interceptions from Sam Bradford (second most in the league) to win their last two games by a combined 42 points.

But Carolina comes in undefeated with Cam Newton playing like Superman in the fourth quarter. Who will come out on top in prime time?

Here Are The Picks We Agree On (Home Teams in CAPS)

Seattle (-6.5) over SAN FRANCISCO

Yay! We were right about the Thursday Night game! That's the first time all year we both got the first game of the week right.

JC: If Seattle couldn't cover that spread, they would deserve to be banned from prime-time for the rest of the year. The good news is they covered. The bad news is that the first half of my two-team teaser came through, so now there's a roughly 100% chance that the Jets will upset the Patriots and ruin my weekend (both gambling-wise and fandom-wise). 

Pittsburgh (-2) over KANSAS CITY

Many sportsbooks don't even have a line for this game, due to the uncertain status of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Even if Ben doesn't return (way ahead of schedule, by the way), the Steelers' defense is playing well enough to stifle a Chiefs offense playing without Jamaal Charles, and with Alex Smith, who may secretly be the worst starting quarterback in the league.

JC: Like, Landry Jones just took down the Cardinals. Kansas City was D.O.A. even before Jamaal Charles got hurt. 

MIAMI (-3) over Houston

Both of these teams have been awful, but both looked good last week against even worse teams. I'll roll with the Phins, though, who seem to have found a spark with interim coach/guy at your gym who is always in the zone, Dan Campbell.

JC: The Dolphins were the beneficiary of the classic "fire your coach, take a bye week, then play a crappy team the next week" trifecta to get back on the right track. The one sign I liked was they got back to running the ball (it also helps to not be trailing the entire game). If they can find success on the ground, they should have an easy win on their hands. 

Cleveland (+6.5) over ST. LOUIS

I don't trust Cleveland's awful defense, but the Browns can move the ball, and St. Louis shouldn't be giving this many points to anybody outside the AFC South.

JC: Cleveland has covered their last three games and Josh McCown has proven himself to be the new king of "throw the ball deep and good things inexplicably keep happening," taking over the crown from Joe Flacco (it was a good run, but it's over now). 

Minnesota (-2.5) over DETROIT

Didn't we see this play five weeks ago? We did indeed.

JC: Is Minnesota good? I have no idea. But Detroit's defense is garbage, so I'll stay away from them. 

Atlanta (-5) over TENNESSEE

The Titans looked like they might be an interesting team Week 1 when they blew out Tampa Bay, but Tennessee hasn't won a game since then, and has really only competed once. The Falcons are coming off their first loss, and a disappointing performance the week before against Washington, so I'd expect a crisp and dominant performance against an inferior opponent to get back on track.

JC: If Zach Mettenberger is the starting quarterback, you can't make this line high enough. Tennessee's run defense is [fart noise] and the Falcons should be able to dominate the clock and the chains. 

Tampa Bay (+3.5) over WASHINGTON

Washington's hot defensive start seems to be over, and Kirk Cousins is one of the few quarterbacks in the league that can "out-interception" Jameis Winston. Expect a slop fest, as Cousins' 8 picks and Winston's 7 ranks 4th and 5th in the league, respectively. That said, I'll take the points and the team with the better ground game/defense.

JC: I'll just take that half-point, thank you. 

INDIANAPOLIS (-4) over New Orleans

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that the Saints' performance against Atlanta was a fluke mixed with Atlanta just being pretty good, while I believe Indianapolis may have gotten back on track in defeat against the Patriots.

The Colts badly need a win now, and playing at home against an inconsistent team seems like a good time, right?

JC: The Colts looked pretty good, all things considered, Sunday against the Patriots. Their run defense looks improved, and while New Orleans came into the season planning on running the ball, they haven't found any success. 

NY GIANTS (-3.5) over Dallas

I have zero confidence in this pick. I hate giving over three points with the inconsistent Giants against anybody, but I would sure hate to bet on the Cowboys on the road without Dez and Romo. I'll take what I perceive to be the lesser of two evils.

JC: The Giants are a weird team. Their offense is randomly brilliant and then randomly terrible for reasons that remain unclear. I'm afraid of that half-point, as well as their propensity to crap the bed at the worst possible time, but even with those things taken into account, I just don't see how Dallas scores enough to keep up. 

CAROLINA (-3) over Philadelphia

Are the Eagles for real? I don't buy it yet. Meanwhile, the Panthers are finding ways to generate timely offense and playing solid D.

JC: I'm right back on the Cam Newton bandwagon and I have no intention of getting off at any point this season. 

ARIZONA (-8) over Baltimore

This line is probably a bit too large, but the Cardinals seem poised for a big bounce-back at home, while Baltimore is beaten and bruised, and on the verge of mailing it in for the year.

JC: Have you seen Baltimore's secondary? Have you seen Arizona's passing offense? They could put up 50. 

The Picks We Disagree On (Home Teams Still In CAPS)

JP: Buffalo (-4) over JACKSONVILLE (London)I know Tyrod Taylor is likely out for the Bills, and the Jags have been throwing the ball all over the field, but this is still a Jacksonville team that the Colts defense shut down, and that just lost to Houston by 11. Methinks Buffalo's defense and ground game can carry it here.

JC: JACKSONVILLE (+4) over Buffalo

Yeah, but this is the same Buffalo team that barely beat Tennessee (who sucks) and lost handily to Cincinnati and the Giants. Their pass rush has only managed nine sacks in six games, and when quarterbacks actually have time to throw, they've shredded Buffalo's secondary. Jacksonville might have their best "home" crowd of the year this week, so I'll roll with Blake Bortles (and then want to wander in traffic by halfway through the second quarter). 

JP: New York Jets (+9) over NEW ENGLAND

These games are always close, right? Sure, let's go with that, and the fact that New England looked mortal last week against Indy and is dealing with some injuries along the offensive line.

They're totally still winning the game though.

JC: NEW ENGLAND (-9) over New York Jets

I'm totally ignoring all the signs that point to the Jets keeping this close or even winning outright (a power run game against an undersized and banged up New England defense, big New York receivers against undersized New England corners, a dominant New York defensive line against a makeshift offensive line, physical New York corners against small receivers running timing routes). I'm ignoring all of it. 

JP: Oakland (+4) over SAN DIEGO

I don't know what to make of either of these teams, but Oakland is just fun to watch and I want the Raiders to be good.

JC: SAN DIEGO (-4) over Oakland)

I think San Diego is pretty good, to be honest. Two of their losses are to Cincinnati and Green Bay (both on the road, no less), and Philip Rivers really appears to be locked in. San Diego can't run the ball, and Oakland's run defense is actually pretty good, but I think that's actually an advantage for San Diego - they'll have no illusions of establishing a ground game and just punish Oakland's terrible pass defense (especially against tight ends) with their short crossing routes.   

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 5-8-1
Season: 48-39-4
Last Week's Disagreements: 1-0-1
Season's Disagreements: 14-9-2

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 4-9-1
Season: 43-44-4
Last Week's Disagreements: 0-1-1
Season's Disagreements: 9-14-2

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